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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: June 2019

The Implementation Record of Truth Commissions’ Recommendations in Latin America



One of the most theoretically neglected and empirically under-researched, yet potentially one of the most important, legacies of truth commissions are their recommendations. As discussed elsewhere in this volume, truth commissions have become a significant means of confronting human rights abuses committed by the military, state agents, paramilitaries or opposition forces during repressive regimes or periods of armed conflict. The prime function of a truth commission is to investigate and document human rights violations, and to make its findings public through a report. Another central function of truth commissions is to make recommendations to the government with two main aims: to address violations of the past and to prevent such violations from reoccurring in the future.

There are between 50 and 70 truth commissions in existence worldwide – depending on the criteria one uses to define the universe of truth commissions. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission is arguably the world's best known, and the one that has received the most scholarly attention. However, the model of a truth commission was developed and perfected in Latin America. As of 2018, this region has had 13 official (that is, state-endorsed) truth commissions in 11 different countries that have completed their work since the early 1980s. Adding the two official commissions that never published a report and various non-official truth commissions, there have been a total of more than 20 truth commission efforts in Latin America. Widely known commissions include Argentina's National Commission on the Disappeared (CONADEP), Chile's National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation (Rettig Commission), and Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Lesser known truth commissions include those of Ecuador, Haiti, Panama and Paraguay. A latecomer on the truth commission scene in Latin America is Brazil – which published its final report almost three decades after the country's transition from military dictatorship to democracy in 1985, in response to a presidential initiative. Truth commissions have recently also been established in Colombia and Bolivia, suggesting that this form of documenting human rights violations is far from passé in the region.

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